Over the past 4-5 years, a research group at DTU Physics has been working—with funding from Innovation Fund Denmark and Novo Nordisk Foundation—to develop a quantum technology sensor that can image magnetic fields with an exceptionally high resolution and precision, a so-called compact diamond magnetometer. The core of the sensor is a small synthetic diamond, which is so sensitive to magnetic fields that it can potentially register activity in the brain.
The imaging is done through a combination of microwave pulses and detection of fluorescent light emitted from the diamond.
However, one thing is to be able to perform these types of measurements in a large experimental set-up in a controlled laboratory environment, another thing is to be able to recreate the results in the real world, and go from experiment to component, and thus to a ratio which makes application of the sensor realistic. The research group has succeeded in building a small compact sensor, the size of a mobile phone. But it is only the first step in the development of the technology.
“Even though we’ve reduced the size drastically, the properties of the magnetometer are basically just as good as those we can achieve in the laboratory. It’s an important step in terms of developing a device of a portable size that can be carried around in—for example—a hospital department,” says Associate Professor Alexander Huck, who has headed the team of researchers who have developed the new sensor.
Great potential for medical diagnosis
The potential of the new sensitive sensor is large in all fields in which there is a need to observe magnetic areas with high precision.
“The new magnetometer could be of enormous importance—especially in the healthcare sector. With improved sensitivity in the future, it may offer brand-new opportunities for gaining an insight into the activities that occur in—for example—the heart or the brain, which don’t exist with the current scanning and examination methods,” says Professor Ulrik Lund Andersen, who has the overall responsibility for the development work.
The researchers have patented the new measuring method and are now ready to take the next step towards application. They are therefore looking for commercial partners that are interested in further developing the magnetometer, and they would also like to establish contact with doctors who can contribute with knowledge about needs and wishes for diagnosing diseases of the heart and brain.
They will also themselves be continuing the work with further development of the new compact magnetometer with a view to creating a sensor with even better accuracy and resolution, and an increasingly optimized and compressed design.